Wisconsin natives Niebrugge, Stricker make cut


June 17, 2017

Steve Stricker of Edgerton watches his tee shot on hole No. 9 on Friday during the second-round of the U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
John Ehlke/Daily News

TOWN OF ERIN — The first U.S. Open to be played in Wisconsin will have two of its own play through the weekend. Edgerton native Steve Stricker and Mequon’s Jordan Niebrugge each finished the first 36 holes of the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills at 1-over, barely making the cut for the final two rounds.

The cut line for the top 60 players, plus ties, was 1-over.

“I was looking forward to playing well here and obviously making the cut is fine, it’s great,” Niebrugge said. “But if Saturday is ‘Moving Day,’ and (I’m) looking for a great couple rounds and getting things rolling tomorrow.” Stricker said, “I made a lot of nice putts today, and I hit a lot of good putts.”

Stricker and Niebrugge each shot even-par 72 on Friday to follow their 1-over 73s on Thursday.

Both golfers admitted it meant a lot to just make the U.S. Open because it was in their home state. It was just as important to make the cut, too. These last two weeks have been full of excitement for Stricker, a 12-time PGA Tour winner.

It started with him winning his U.S. Open sectional qualifier June 5 to get to Erin Hills. Since he arrived at the course, he’s been overwhelmed with the support from the fans as he plays in his first U.S. Open since 2014, and about two hours from his hometown.

Both Stricker and Niebrugge acknowledged while it’s great to play at a major in front of hometown fans, it’s also challenging.

“That’s the challenge of playing at home,” Stricker said. “You have to try to put all that extra pressure … you’ve got to deflect it somehow, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. It’s hard to do because you’re hearing it on every hole, every shot and you want to play well.”

Niebrugge said, “It’s always great to play in front of family and friends. It’s a little nerve-racking at first, but once you get going, it’s almost like anything.”

A large gallery followed each golfer. Stricker was grouped with Stewart Cink and Roberto Diaz, while Niebrugge was grouped with Talor Gooch and Kevin Dougherty. Throughout Stricker’s and Niebrugge’s rounds, they were greeted with large ovations.

When Stricker made a birdie on No. 18, the packed grandstands erupted with a near-deafening cheer.

This week’s championship is only the third tournament Stricker has played in Wisconsin since the former Greater Mil

Since then, he’s played in the 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships at Whistling Straits, near Sheboygan.

“But over the years I’ve gotten a lot better managing that,” Stricker said about the crowd’s support. “When I first played the GMO, that was the hardest thing. You just felt like you’re letting everybody down when you’re not playing well.”

Niebrugge has played on some of golf’s biggest stages, including the 2014 Masters, and the 2015 and 2016 Open Championships. At the 2015 British Open, he was the low amateur, finishing tied for sixth.

Niebrugge won the 2011 State Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler when he was 17 years old, becoming the youngest champion in the event’s modern era.

The Wisconsinites were nearly paired together for today’s third round. Instead, they will be in back-to-back pairings, with Niebrugge and Ryan Brehm teeing off at 9:10 a.m. and Stricker, along with Shane Lowry, at 9:21 a.m.

“Yeah, that would be awesome,” Niebrugge said of a potential Sunday pairing. “I’m sure I’d enjoy the walk.”

When the championship does finish, Stricker will continue his memorable month when he hosts the second annual PGA Tour Champions American Family Championship at University Ridge near Madison from June 23-25.

This year, Stricker is eligible to play. The minimum age for a PGA Tour Champions event is 50.

“It was unbelievable, the amount of support we got from the community,” Stricker said of last year’s inaugural tournament.

The tournament’s aim is to help raise money for several charities, including the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation, the American Family Children’s Hospital and The First Tee of South Central Wisconsin.

“We had a crowd there like a regular tour event,” he added. “Hopefully it’s only going to get bigger and better.”

Niebrugge’s next shot: Homestead graduate ready to make cut at latest major